'Together -- this is the word behind this rally'

Religious, secular relatives of Gaza hostages gather to sing, pray and hope for unity

Diverse mix comes together for rally in Tel Aviv, serenaded by musicians Idan Raichel and Aharon Razel, to mark a cause that has united Israelis from different worlds

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Emuna Libman, left, and Yarden Gonen, sisters of hostages at a solidarity event for the hostages at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 10, 2024. (Screenshot)
Emuna Libman, left, and Yarden Gonen, sisters of hostages at a solidarity event for the hostages at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 10, 2024. (Screenshot)

It was raining at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square on Wednesday evening, pushing the hundreds of diverse Israelis who gathered there to express solidarity for the hostages held by terrorists in Gaza to hold their planned rally indoors instead.

They gathered inside the main hall of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, under its iconic Roy Lichtenstein mural, for an emotional evening of prayer, music and unity, marking the shared plight of Israelis from different walks of life.

The main message, as always in the last three months, was about the need to bring home the remaining 132 hostages being in Gaza after being taken captive by Hamas terrorists during their murderous October 7 onslaught in southern Israel.

But the other message was one of unity, as the sisters of two hostages — Yarden Gonen, sister of Romi Gonen, and Emuna Libman, sister of Elyakim Libman — acted as emcees of the evening and spoke frankly about their unlikely meeting as two Israeli women from different worlds, one a religious settler and one secular from the liberal bastion of Tel Aviv.

Both of their siblings were abducted from the Supernova desert rave on that black Shabbat morning.

“There’s a good chance we wouldn’t have met,” said Yarden Gonen, pointing out that she grew up in the northern suburb of Kfar Vradim and lives in Tel Aviv, while Emuna Libman is from the hardline religious West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Musicians Idan Raichel, left, and Aharon Razel perform at a solidarity event for the hostages at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 10, 2024. (Screenshot)

The two became close during the last months of rallying together for the hostages, both turning 30 during this period and each with partners who are part of the IDF’s Egoz commando unit and have fought together in Gaza.

Gonen, who has spoken publicly frequently since October 7, smiled broadly, something she hasn’t done in other gatherings.

“Together — this is the word behind this rally,” said Gonen.

It was the family of hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen who initiated and organized the gathering, with support from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Dekel-Chen, 35, was taken hostage after being injured while fighting in the emergency squad of Kibbutz Nir Oz, where he lived with his wife and two young daughters. His three siblings-in-law spoke Wednesday night — one of them religious with her hair covered, one from an Ethiopian-Israeli background, and another wearing his reservist uniform.

“Look at us and see what the Israeli nation looks like,” said the reservist brother-in-law, his head without a kippah. “We live in pain and in hope.”

The brothers-in-law of hostage Sagui Dekel-Cohen at a solidarity event for the hostages at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 10, 2024 (Screenshot)

Dekel-Chen’s Ethiopian-Israeli brother-in-law, who also lives on Nir Oz with his family, named all those from the kibbutz who were taken captive, including the redheaded Bibas family with its two young children, taken from outside his home, he said.

There were more than a few unlikely moments in this gathering. Singer-songwriter Idan Raichel played accordion to Aharon Razel’s piano-playing in a rendition of “Ani Maamin,” (“I Believe”), and the crowd of mostly observant Israelis, with more than a few non-kippah wearers, listened to the thoughts of Kiryat Arba and Hebron Council head Eliyahu Libman, the father of hostage Elyakim Libman, and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed.

Libman, who has stated more than once that the Israeli government shouldn’t make any deals to free imprisoned Palestinians in order to free his son and the other hostages, spoke about his son’s journey from the West Bank’s Hebron to secular Tel Aviv and then, more recently, to Gaza.

“We need to hold our heads high, we need to smile,” said Libman to a crowd of people who teared up throughout the hour-and-a-half gathering.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, known for making inflammatory remarks about Arabs and Palestinians, spoke about the needless hatred among Israelis and the blessings of being together.

Ditza Or, mother of hostage Avinatan Or, at a solidarity event for the hostages at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on December 10, 2024 (Screenshot)

Speakers included Ditza Or, mother of hostage Avinatan Or, abducted from the Supernova party, who said that the “beautiful youth dancing at the party saved the rest of us, that’s how we’re all here,” otherwise Hamas terrorists might have reached beyond the Gaza border communities.

“It doesn’t even matter what music we dance to,” said Or, “we’re all part of a huge story that started 4,000 years ago. Love ties us together.”

A more mainstream Orthodox rabbi, Itamar Eldar, spoke about the complexity of bringing together the diverse beliefs and people gathered for the evening.

“I live in Tel Aviv, I know about the differences, but I also know about the partnerships that are possible,” said Eldar. “We need to find the bridges, because we want to fix and to heal.”

As musicians Razel and then Raichel performed several times throughout the evening, singing songs of prayer and liturgy, the crowd joined in, singing softly and then more loudly, knowing every word of each song by heart.

“You represent the consensus of this country,” Gonen told Raichel, adding that his music is the only music that her whole family can agree upon.

Yarden’s mother, Merav Leshem Gonen, who has become one of the voices of the hostage families, spoke emotionally about the darkness that entered their family’s life on October 7 when Romi was abducted, and the light that reemerged as their family became close to other hostage families during more than three months of tortured waiting.

“The dialogue isn’t always simple,” said Leshem Gonen. “There are things that bother us and we found solutions, because that’s what families do — families talk and agree to not agree on everything.”

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